Transcript of Interview: 891 ABC Adelaide Breakfast
14 September 2015
Abraham: Now finally and we've been hedging around this haven't we? We've been hedging around this: the Northern Connector motorway. Now, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, he was in Perth on the weekend announcing a huge—well opening—a huge project there that's just been completed and he's in Adelaide today, we understand with Jay Weatherill, the Premier and they've finally sort of worked out who's going to pay for the Northern Connector.
Bevan: That's right now in the north we had a whole lot of different road projects but they didn't come together. This one brings them all together so we've got the Expressway and the Superway and all sorts of things going on out there, now we're going to have the Northern Connector and that's the connector because it connects things.
Abraham: It will come off the South Road Superway, at that junction at Port River Expressway, and it will effectively then give you a fast route to Port Wakefield Road and to the Northern Expressway, because at the moment all these roads don't really talk to each other. They're brilliant roads, each of them in their own right, but they don't really talk to each other. You got to go through crap roads to get to the good roads. Jamie Briggs is Liberal MP for Mayo, he's the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development and he, I think it's fair to say, was steering the negotiations on this follow the Federal Government's end with his new best friend Stephen Mullighan the Transport Minister. Jamie Briggs welcome to the program.
Briggs: You always need friends in politics.
Abraham: You- well no, Paul Keating said if you want a friend in politics, get a dog.
Abraham: Jamie Briggs, the Northern Connector—the announcement will formally be at 8.30 but what are we going to get for our money?
Briggs: Well, I think you summed it up quite well. It's the road which is sort of the missing link if you like, which connects the freight corridor through to the port. It's a huge win for the freight industry particularly, and I think they'll be very pleased this morning with this announcement. It is an exciting project. It's a green field project. It is, as I say, the missing link part of South Road and it has been talked about for some time. It's not a cheap project obviously, but it's a very economically beneficial project that will deliver a lot of jobs in construction. And it will deliver significant benefit for the freight industry particularly, getting their products from where it's produced to the port and off to the markets that we're creating in China and South East Asia.
Bevan: Okay so this is upgrading that stretch of road…
Briggs: It's building a new road in essence.
Abraham: Right from the end of the Superway through to—that's where one bit starts and it takes you all the way to Port Wakefield Road and the Northern Expressway.
Briggs: Yes that's right. That's exactly right. It connects to the Northern Expressway.
Abraham: And the second bridge, or the second opening in the bridge, they did have the forethought to put that in there at the Northern Expressway, it's not being used at the moment. So the idea- this will cut across the Salt Pans will it?
Briggs: Yes that's right, that's right.
Abraham: I thought they were going to use them for housing.
Briggs: Well, I think there is a development plan out just a little bit further north of where the Northern Connector meets Port Wakefield Road. But I think this also makes that development more likely, but that's probably something that Stephen Mullighan and John Rau can talk you through.
Abraham: Right. Will it need a toll? Will it be a toll road? Particularly I know that Jay Weatherill won't come at tolls for cars but there was some muttering from Stephen Mullighan about a toll road for trucks.
Briggs: No, there won't. This won't have a user pay component but what we have agreed, is that Stephen and I will go off and work on a proposal to introduce a user charge-in system for the broader network. So not just for South Road, but more broadly for heavy vehicles, probably around 2019. But this will be a different system if you like, rather than at the moment you pay fuel tax, or tax the roads through fuel consumption and through registration charges and licensing fees. What we're going to look at is whether we can put a system together which uses just the user charge and gets rid of those other inefficient taxes and apply that, but that's part of the agreement we've reached.
Bevan: Right, would that be for all heavy vehicles right across South Australia?
Briggs: Yes, most probably, but that's the scope that we have to work through. But certainly there is increasingly an issue with how revenue for infrastructure is raised, as cars and trucks become much more efficient. But for something that we've been talking about and the South Australian Government has indicated that they're willing to be the first to look at whether we can implement this.
Bevan: Well that would be a serious reform.
Briggs: Yes. Very serious, very significant. If it involves obviously the use of fuel excise and so forth as well, but that's the parameters that Stephen and I will have to work through. But it doesn't directly relate to this project.
Abraham: [Indistinct] part of signing it off?
Briggs: Look, it's been something we've been talking about. So, I think we're pleased with how the South Australian Government is willing to have the discussion at least. The states have historically been reluctant to get involved at looking at this reform, but the reality as their budget strikes them and they now realise this is probably something that has to happen in time. But it is complicated, it will take a fair bit of work to get a proposal in place and that's why we've agreed that we'll do that work.
Bevan: It doesn't directly relate to the project but it very much finds its genesis in the negotiations over this project.
Briggs: Yes, I think that's right, but there have been discussions through the state ministerial council for some time, in fact, starting under Anthony Albanese in relation to heavy vehicles and the charging regimes. So it's not particularly new, but it is something that's becoming probably more urgent as the task of funding infrastructure and maintaining our infrastructure becomes more difficult for government.
Abraham: Now the price tag on this is nearly $1 billion, correct?
Briggs: Yes, $975 million.
Bevan: How much does the Commonwealth pay?
Briggs: 788. We're paying 80 per cent of this project.
Abraham: When will it get underway?
Briggs: We believe by May next year, so it's 985…
Abraham: Yeah 985 yeah.
Briggs: And then because it's green field it's a lot easier, there's not property acquisition and it's also a project that has had quite a bit of planning because the State Government's been looking at this for some time. So it should move a lot quicker than what other projects where you're building on an existing corridor like the Torrens to Torrens and Darlington project. But by mid-next year there will be three very significant projects on the South Road Corridor, which is a great outcome for the state. Two and a half billion dollars worth of upgrades.
Abraham: What's the finish date? So it starts next year, 2016?
Briggs: We think it'll be finished probably by late 2018, early 2019.
Abraham: Okay. Um, that's a hell of an intersection though, isn't it?
Briggs: Yes, it's 15.5 kilometres of new road, so it's quite a substantial …
Abraham: But the intersection, having a look at the sort of artist's impression, as they call it, where the Superway and the Port River Expressway will launch into the new Northern Connector, running across to the Northern Expressway; that's almost a Los Angeles style loop, that one.
Briggs: A clover leaf, as they call it in the business.
Abraham: Yes. It's impressive.
Briggs: Well, we like our infrastructure, and big infrastructure is always exciting for all of us. But it is, it's a really great, a fabulous project. It will employ a lot of South Australians. It's an obviously well positioned project given the challenges in the north as far as having people access to jobs and so forth.
Bevan: We're talking to Jamie Briggs. He's the Liberal Member for Mayo, so he's a local MP, and he's also Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, about the announcement that will be formally made at 8:30 this morning with the Prime Minister and the Premier to give the go-ahead for the Northern Connector. Jamie Briggs, you expect to be Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development for much longer?
Briggs: Look, as the Prime Minister dealt with these matters on Friday, I think they're the best and most appropriate words as he used: there's no intention for any changes in the Cabinet as he made clear on Friday.
Bevan: And yet you find yourself caught up in ministerial speculation, and Scott Morrison has confirmed he had to ring you to say look, I didn't put out this hit list, and really what's going on beyond there is more than just Jamie Briggs. This sort of speculation is designed to destabilise the party and bring on a leadership challenge.
Briggs: Well, look, I think what all of us can do is work as hard as we can for the people of Australia every single day, and that's what I'm there to do, and I serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. It's the Prime Minister's Cabinet, ultimately; he selects it, we work for him and the Australian people, and while he has that faith I'll continue to do my job. But look, I think all of this talk is completely unhelpful. It feeds along what journalists love talking about—intrigue and gossip—and I'm not suggesting this is made up, but I'm just saying that I think my colleagues and I have an obligation to the people who elected us. It doesn't include to feed intrigue and feed gossip, it includes working hard to deliver projects like this, and that's what I'm intent on doing.
Abraham: How did that phone call from Scott Morrison go?
Briggs: It was fine. Scott and I have known each other for a long time, pre-politics in fact.
Abraham: He said mate? It wasn't me…
Briggs: Well, look, Scott and I have had a very good relationship for a long time. So it was actually a very cordial discussion.
Abraham: It was obviously one of your colleagues with whom you have not had a very good relationship for a long time. You want to name anyone?
Briggs: Well, look, I think the best thing that we can do is to deliver projects like this for South Australia and Australia, and in the end if the people who elect us will say they're focusing on the right things; if they keep reading this sort of junk in newspapers then they'll treat us with the contempt that we'll deserve at the next election.
Bevan: And yet you've confirmed that this is not made up by journalists?
Briggs: Well clearly. I mean, ignoring the obvious, that this stuff's made up, obviously feeds into a fever that gets created around these stories, and has now for sort of six years, there's been a mainstay of journalism for some time now …
Bevan: Yeah, but it's not the journalists' fault, they're not making it up. They're able to do this because—and we now have at a ministerial level—people working against the Prime Minister. Somebody as respected as Chris Uhlmann, reporting in our 7 o'clock news bulletin, saying a challenge will come regardless of Canning?
Briggs: Well look, you know, I didn't suggest it was being made up, and I didn't suggest it was being driven, all I said was that this stuff excites—if I can put it that way, David—journalists. Whereas what should be exciting people is a $985 million project, which will deliver massive benefit for our state and our country.
Abraham: So there won't be a challenge to the Prime Minister?
Briggs: I don't think there'll be a challenge to the Prime Minister, nor should there be. The Prime Minister's doing a good job. We've had some difficult months, and there's no doubt about that, but the best way to resolve that is to focus on our jobs and focus on what people want us to do.
Abraham: Jamie Briggs, somebody's suggested it sounds like you've swallowed a clock, but I think it might be the indicator on your car.
Briggs: It is the indicator on the car; we're just getting to the venue…
Abraham: Are you going around in circles or something? Jamie Briggs, thank you.
Briggs: Thank you, guys.
Abraham: Big announcement at 8:30, but it's here now, and that is that nearly a billion dollars will be spent on starting work—well, finishing—starting and finishing the Northern Connector. It will start it 2016, the idea is that it will finish in 2018, 19, run across the salt flats there at Dry Creek, from the Port River Expressway-Superway junction, and meet up with the Northern Expressway and Port Wakefield Road.
Bevan: But if you're just joining us, all that speculation about a toll—and that was a sticking point in negotiations for a long time between the Federal and State Governments—there won't be a toll on this, but the South Australian Transport Minister has agreed to negotiate getting rid of the current charges and fees that burden the trucking industry, and replacing that with a user charge for heavy vehicles. And maybe introducing that by 2019, so watch that spot.